NBA Sunday: Brooklyn’s Star Rounding Into Form
The signing of a max-level, 5-year $98 million contract with the Brooklyn Nets this offseason cemented Deron Williams’ status as an elite level point guard. Various teams around the league, including his hometown Dallas Mavericks, jockeyed to sign Williams this summer but staying in Brooklyn proved to be his final decision.
The comfort of staying in New York didn’t help the Nets superstar’s start to the season, however. Inflammation in both of his ankles has required Williams to take three cortisone shots already this season and severely impeded the guards’ burst and effectiveness for most of the year.
Through the first half of the season heading into the All Star break, Williams averaged just 16.7 points on 41.3 percent shooting – including a putrid 34.7 percent from behind the 3-point line. Williams missed two games heading into the break to get treatment on both of his ankles, giving the former All Star an eight-day break to rest his ailing body. That ample amount of time seems to have rejuvenated Williams, with the eight-year vet playing his best basketball of the season since his return.
Since the break, Williams has not only increased his scoring exponentially but the Nets point guard has upped his efficiency to career-high levels. Williams closed out the final five games of Feb. averaging 22.8 points on over 45 percent shooting from the field to go along with 8.4 dimes a contest. In March, Williams shooting percentage jumped up to nearly 47 percent while averaging almost 22 points per game.
Now, through the first three games of April, Williams is shooting over 58 percent from the field, 47 percent from 3-point range, to average 28.7 points a night. With two 30+ point games in three games to start the month, the Nets point guard is showing no signs of slowing down heading into the postseason.
“I think it’s a combination of everything,” Williams told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News. “I’m able to do extra work now, things I wasn’t able to do before (because of the pain). All I could do is play games. I couldn’t put extra shots up. I just had to go home.”
Still, even with Williams playing at an All-Star level, Brooklyn has failed to separate from the pack during his spurt- sporting a 13-10 record since the All-Star break. The most unsettling aspect of the Nets recent run in the team’s inability to beat quality teams. Since Feb. 13, Brooklyn has accumulated just one win against teams that currently feature a winning record.
Two crucial losses to the surging Chicago Bulls over the last month have decreased the Nets’ lead to just one-and-a-half games in the race for home court advantage in the first round of their potential four-five matchup.
In Brooklyn’s favor to hold on to the fourth seed is that this team will face just two teams with winning records over their last six games. Still, with a potential matchup against the playoff-tested Bulls looming, this Nets squad needs to play better basketball if it wants to advance past the first round.
In Case You Missed It: Discussing the West’s Non-Playoff Teams
With less than 10 games left on the NBA schedule this season, the playoff picture is beginning to take shape and some postseason hopefuls look like they’re going to find themselves left out in the cold. HOOPSWORLD’s Alex Kennedy and Yannis Koutroupis discuss what’s next for the likely lottery-bound Western Conference teams:
Chicago Bulls Believe Stellar Defense Outweighs League-Worst Offense:
The Bulls have been a one-dimensional team this season with former league MVP and one of the most potent playmakers in the NBA in Derrick Rose in street clothes for all of 2012-13. Always one of the best in the business defensively, Chicago was dominant over the last few years due to the way Rose controlled tempo and made life easier for everyone offensively.
This season the margin for error is much smaller defensively with Rose out and no timetable set for his return.
“It does [weigh on the defense], but whether D-Rose is playing or not playing, we still have to hang our hat on our defense,” Bulls forward Carlos Boozer told HOOPSWORLD. “When was the last offensive team to win a championship? Maybe the Mavs in 2011, I mean they were probably the last team to do that. Most teams have to hang their hat on their defense, offense will not get you a series. Very few times will an offense get you a series. Give them credit though, they still played good enough defense to put their offense in a position to win that series. At the end of the day, we’ve got to hang our hat on our defense.
“If we get everybody back and remember we’re missing Joakim [Noah], D-Rose, Rip [Hamilton] and Marco [Belinelli], those are four ballers for us, a huge part of our team. Despite that, no excuses.”
Missing Rose along with numerous key players throughout the year has taken its toll on these Bulls. Still, hanging tough at fifth in the East coming into play Sunday, the Bulls haven’t let rotten health come between the team and wins.
“I just take it day-by-day and as long as [Rose] continues to improve, that’s all we’re concerned about,” Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said. “When he’s comfortable, he’ll get out there.
“I think you always have to look at the players you have available,” Thibodeau explained. “You have to understand what you strengths and weaknesses are, what give you the best chance of winning, play to you strengths and cover up your weaknesses and as I’ve said all year long, I think we have more than enough. I think we can win every game, defend, score, rebound, low turnovers and share the ball. So whoever is called upon, get in there and get the job done.”
Still, even the most dominant defense needs some sort of scoring power in order to be a legitimate contender. So far this season, the offensive side of the basketball could most adequately be described at putrid. Even though the Bulls rank third in the NBA in points allowed per game (92.3), the offense has been the main culprit as to why Chicago is on the outside looking in for home court advantage in the postseason.
The Bulls currently rank dead-last in the NBA in points scored per game (92.8) and are the fourth-worst team in the league in shooting percentage (43.6). This is the key reason why Chicago has the fifth-worst point differential among current Eastern Conference playoff teams.
“It comes down to our defense, our offense comes and goes,” Boozer said. ”In the playoffs, as we know over the course of a series, your defense is going to have to win a game in the series at some point. It can’t be an offensive game every game.”
The tried and true saying around the league is that defense wins championships. Over the last few weeks, the Bulls have played better basketball at the right time with postseason play right around the corner. Chicago is 6-2 over its last eight contests, featuring a vital win over the Miami HEAT to end the Eastern Conference leader’s dominant 27-game winning streak.
While the Bulls aren’t focused on the HEAT, a massive win over a bitter rival could be the emotional spark that helps this team through the sobering truth that Rose may not return this season.
“We were playing good before the HEAT game too, but obviously they’re the champs so everyone pays more attention to that game,” Boozer said. “[The winning streak] of course grabs more attention and more headlines, but we were playing pretty well before that.”
“We’re not worried about the HEAT, we’re worried about the next game – that’s all we’re thinking about.” Thibdeau said. “Improving every day, concentrate on our next opponent, put everything we have into each and every day and everything will take care of itself.”
Chicago is a team that has been through the bitter postseason battles that harden a team before but, unless another player can step up to help shoulder the offensive burden, a deep playoff run may not be in the cards. While defense is certainly a main culprit in a lengthy postseason run, having a player that can be the difference-maker at the end of those close, defensive-minded contests in crucial.
Unless Rose can return soon and get the kinks out before the playoffs start in just a few weeks, Chicago may be packing their bags and heading home a lot sooner than they would like to this April.